Jiri Zidek On Nymburk's Rise

VTB-League.com presents a brand-new Expert Opinion, our blog featuring the sport's top minds and their thoughts on the latest developments in the VTB United League.

Jiri Zidek is the author of today's blog post. The legendary Czech center and Euroleague champion currently serves as the VTB United League's official representative to the Euroleague, FIBA and other international organizations. In his post, Zidek discusses Nymburk's surprising 5-1 start to the season.


On the team's early success: I'm really happy that Nymburk is playing well and already has five wins. As you may recall, last season the Czechs only won nine games and dropped out of the playoff hunt very early. Several different factors have played a role in the success. First, there's a new coach. Ronen Ginzburg returned, which immediately gave the team a boost. Together with the front office, he quickly assembled a competitive squad. Last season, Nymburk had its biggest budget ever and serious ambitions, but the final result did not please the front office nor the fans. Now the team is built on young, hungry players who want to prove themselves in the VTB United League. Of course, it's still too early to draw many conclusions, but based on the first few games, you can see that both the offense and defense are significantly improved. Each player is giving 100%. I don't think anyone expected such toughness from the young Czech Lions and five wins to start the season. At the same time, many of them still lack experience. Also, three players missed the most recent game against VEF because of injuries: Vojtech Hruban, Jiri Welsch and Michael Dixon...

On the schedule: Nymburk played five of its first six games at home. The only loss came on the road against UNICS. I don't think the team will play that differently on the road, but adjusting to a new city, plus a foreign arena and new baskets is always tough. The team has four consecutive road games in November vs. Tsmoki-Minsk, Krasny Oktyabr, CSKA and Avtodor. After those games, we'll have a better idea of how the season might go for the Czech team. I think the Dragons will be the favorites in Nymburk's upcoming road game in Minsk. Tsmoki is also off to a great start. It's going to be a showdown between the league's two biggest surprises! The Czech Lions must play better on defense if they want to earn a spot in the VTB United League playoffs.

On Ronen Ginzburg: Former coach Ronen Ginzburg has returned to Nymburk. The Israeli spent four years at the club as an assistant and three years as head coach, before being replaced in 2013 by Kestutis Kemzura. Kemzura spent two years developing the team, but when his contract was up, the club decided not to extend it. The reason was simple: despite a solid budget, the club did not reach its goals. During the offseason, the decision was made to bring back Ginzburg, a person who has lived nine years in the Czech Republic and spent seven with Nymburk and two more with the Czech Basketball Federation and the national team. He wasn't just the national team coach. He also helped develop young Czech coaches. Ronen knows everything about Czech basketball, both the opportunities and the situation he's currently in. I think the Nymburk front office made the right decision bringing him back. The results speak from themselves. 

On the team leader: As is often the case, one player makes sudden progress and unexpectedly takes on the role of leader. I'm talking about Howard Sant-Roos. I know that he came to the Czech Republic at the end of last season and practiced with the team during the last week of May. The coaching staff needed to get to know him and get an idea of his abilities. The Cuban really wanted to be at Nymburk and play in the VTB United League. Prior to this, Sant-Roos had spent two seasons in the second Italian division. He's already producing and helping Nymburk win, but he's still got a lot to learn. It's evident, though, that he's one of the league's most versatile forwards, someone who can execute the offense and shoot from outside. I hope that his career takes off after this season.

On the newcomers: Nymburk has a very tough schedule due to competing in three leagues. The team had to find new players to help with depth and rotation. The point guard position is huge in modern basketball and the club needed a back-up with experience at the highest level. Hordur Vilhjalmsson ended up being the choice. He plays for Iceland's national team, which had a terrific EuroBasket 2015. That was the decisive factor in signing him. Michael Dixon and Chasson Randle have already shown what they can do this season. They're two young Americans who have something to prove. Belgium's Maxime De Zeeuw also played at EuroBasket. He's a versatile big man who can both play with his back to the basket and shoot from the perimeter. He spent last season in Italy with Rome's Virtus. I think he's fit in well and really understands the game. Nymburk deserves an "A" for its offseason signings. 

On the Czech talent: I'm positive that Vojtech Hruban is one of the most talented players in the history of Czech basketball. He needs to be more consistent and seasoned this year. At the moment, he's playing very well, averaging 25 minutes per game and shooting 68% from outside. Hruban has everything necessary to be a leader on this young team. As for Martin Peterka: he's a big talent on the Czech national youth team. Martin finished in second place at the U-16 European championships. Nymburk has brought him along slowly for many years and now he's getting solid playing time and playing in big moments. I'm confident that young players will help the club develop in Europe and ultimately reach a higher level.

Jiri Zidek,
1999 Euroleague champion with Zalgiris
Official VTB United League representative to the Euroleague, FIBA and other international organizations